Upon first gaze, Beltrami Park’s lush green space and sprightly bocce ball courts may seem like the perfect sunny day respite, but the park’s history tells a much more macabre story.
From 1857 to 1890 the land was designated as Maple Hill Cemetery, the burial site of over 5,000 early Minneapolis settlers, from Civil War vets to community leaders to mothers who died in childbirth along with hundreds of other citizens. Towards the late 1800s negligence and vandalism had overrun the cemetery, the health authority stopped further interments and the city council condemned the land surrounding it. It’s thought that just over thirteen hundred of the estimated five thousand bodies were moved to nearby Hillside Cemetery in efforts to respect the dead, but that the majority still remain.
In 1908, the Minneapolis Park Board took control of the land with the intention of keeping the cemetery intact, but through their negligence, the property became so dilapidated that caskets could be seen shifting up through the earth. Throughout the years, community members tried in vain to preserve and renovate the cemetery, but over time something even more unexpected happened. It became a destination for the living.
Home to bocce ball courts, the Italian game of ball throwing, and other recreational activities eventually staked their claim to the cemetery, and now Beltrami Park is a lively neighborhood destination.
To this day, if you pay close attention, you can still find remnants of the old graveyard and memorial plaques that tell its story.